Manchester United scored a dramatic 93rd-minute goal to beat Aston Villa 3-2 at Old Trafford on Sunday and return to the top of the Premier League table.
The hero was 17-year-old Federico Macheda – a 61st-minute substitute who, on his first-team debut for United, executed a sharp turn before curling in a delightful shot in injury time to add to Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace after United had earlier fallen behind 2-1.
Ronaldo fired United in front early in the game before John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor turned proceedings in Villa’s favour, but United’s Portuguese winger struck again in the 80th minute before Macheda’s memorable moment sent United back to the summit of the league by a one-point margin, and with a game in hand over title rivals Liverpool.
In turn, the result extended Villa’s winless streak in all competitions to nine games as their late-season slump continues, and Martin O’Neill’s side – who have now not won at Old Trafford in their last 24 attempts – remain six points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and a Champions League qualification spot.
There was an unfamiliar look to United’s back four at kick off with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic both missing, and with a centre-back pairing of John O’Shea and Jonny Evans on show at Old Trafford Villa sought to test the waters from the off.
Edwin van der Sar was forced immediately to punch clear an Ashley Young cross – Gary Neville at right back struggled to contain the winger and later swapped positions with Evans – and Nicky Shorey bolted into the United penalty area, winning a corner as Evans cut his delivery out for a corner. From the resulting delivery Darren Fletcher kneed John Carew’s header onto the post.
All this came inside the opening four minutes, and set the tone for a game in which the hosts looked open to attack at any point. It also laid the foundation for an exciting encounter which swung from end to end.
Despite being put under pressure from the start it was United who took the lead in the 14th minute. A needless touch on a through ball from James Milner saw Brad Friedel presented with no other option than to pick the ball up, and from the direct free-kick Ronaldo blasted the ball into the top-right corner.
Villa responded well as Ashley Young made Van der Sar tip a free-kick behind, and after half an hour they were on level terms. Gareth Barry placed a perfect cross from the right wing onto Carew’s head and the towering Norwegian obliged with a well-placed finish that nestled just inside the left post.
Ronaldo glanced a Nani free-kick straight at Friedel, but half time came and went without further incident as Villa emerged for the second period in just as fanciful mood as they did for the start of the game.
Continually pressing and suggestive of being able to score again, Villa did just that before the hour when Ronaldo surrendered possession needlessly in the visitors’ half and refused to track back.
No such laxity was forthcoming from Villa as they poured forward, and Carew turned provider as he whipped a cross into the danger area which Agbonlahor beat Van der Sar’s fist to with his head to send Villa into the lead.
However, just as they looked to be teetering on the verge of their third successive defeat for the first time since December 2001 United staged a resurgence that renewed their appetite, and with 10 minutes remaining Ronaldo struck again.
Some nice one-touch passing around the perimeter of the 18-yard area saw the ball finally laid on for the Portuguese star, and he wrapped his weaker left foot around the ball to send a low finish past Friedel and into the bottom-right corner for 2-2.
Friedel then tipped a rasping Fletcher shot over the bar as United sniffed victory and Ronaldo hammered an effort on the angle over as he sought a glorious hat-trick.
Then, in the last minute of the 90, the ball broke to Danny Welbeck who was foiled by a sharp stop from the Villa keeper as the away side entered the five minutes of injury time clinging on for a point, a point which for much of the game had looked to be a possible three.
Macheda then stepped up to secure the headlines as he spun and finished in fine fashion to send his side back to the top of the table and cap a debut he will never forget.